The water report consists of an evaluation of Pittsburgh’s water programs – and what to do about it
Water quality has long been a problem in Pittsburgh between outdated infrastructure and a history of heavy industrial pollution.
Now, Pittsburgh-based advocacy and education nonprofit Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE) has released its comprehensive biennial, Something’s in the Water analysis of 36 municipal water systems, compiled through public information and right-to-know requests.
The results show a lot of room for improvement and the report contains extensive recommendations.
Most of Allegheny County’s water systems are publicly owned and many are understaffed and inadequate in resources. In 2019, more than half reported violations of water quality. Eighty percent of the water systems had detectable lead levels in their drinking water in 2019.
“Some issues have emerged that are wake-up calls to our community: Private water suppliers are more expensive and less transparent than their public counterparts, and cooperation between water systems promotes the exchange of resources, technical expertise and best practices in the region. and that all water systems must commit to ending the partial replacement of lead service lines, ”said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, CEO of WHE.
This last recommendation sounds strange, but WHE makes it clear that a partial replacement of lead service lines, ie only part of a service line on the public or private side, can actually “cause a rise in lead levels that is higher than before an exchange, “says the report.
While the current “action level” for lead in drinking water (set by the EPA) is 15 ppb (parts per billion), there is no safe lead exposure, the report said.
“Currently, with the data we have, only about 3% of our water systems are above 15 parts per billion,” said Talor Musil, health policy coordinator at WHE. “So you’re in danger, if you will. However, if the requirements were to drop to 10 (ppb) as the trigger, an additional 15% of local water systems would be added. So there are really many water systems in this gray area right now. “
There are two ways to reduce lead in drinking water – the complete replacement of lead service lines and corrosion protection.
There are also actions that consumers can take.
WHE recommends requesting a water quality test for your drinking water and purchasing a National Sanitation Foundation certified water jug or faucet bracket to filter lead from your water. Always use cold tap water when preparing food, beverages, and baby food – cold water is used more often and the pipes are typically flushed more often.
WHE also recommends attending the next board meeting of your water system (probably now easier thanks to Zoom) and raising your concerns.
The report also notes that bottled water is nothing special when it comes to lead levels.
“There’s really no such thing as an extremely strict standard for bottled water,” said Hanna Beightley, WHE health home coordinator. “So it really doesn’t meet any production standard other than what filtered water has to meet. Hence, it is usually not always considered to be safer. Sometimes it is practically exactly what is in tap water. “
Something’s in the Water also details the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority’s (PENNVEST) new Lead Line Replacement project, which is expected to invest $ 90 million in this work in 2021.
WHE started this report two years ago when simple questions about water quality were difficult to answer on municipal water systems websites. The 25-page report can be downloaded here.
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